Chapter 1 Aira’s Flight

Aira ran. She ran as fast as she could, her breath coming in bursts as she tried to direct enough air into her lungs. It would not be enough. Despite her long legs, they were coming for her, and they would catch her.

A small whisper on the wind caught her pointed ear, causing it to quiver. Turn here, it seemed to say. Why she should follow this voice was beyond her, but in a world of dragons and shifters and elves and magic, she had no reason to disbelieve that someone could really be talking to her.

She skidded as she turned, her short dark hair flopping in her green eyes before streaming back as she began to run again. She bared pointed teeth as she saw a river up ahead. Even from this distance, she could see the current rising up in wisps of white. How could she cross it? The voice had led her to a dead-end!

Trust. The voice whispered once more, and Aira saw a man standing on the opposite bank of the river. She could make out a shepherd’s crook in one hand and a slight smile on his face.

Were they connected?

Why? She thought at the voice. Who are you?

I am Nailan. I am the beginning and the end. I am your creator. I am your redeemer. I am Nailan.

The shock nearly caused her to fall to her face. Just as she felt herself lose balance, something seemed to catch her and keep her on her feet. Nailan? Why was Nailan trying to help her escape? The kingdom of Nefti had strict laws, and her very clothing broke them. They said it was Nailan’s will that women wore dresses and men trousers. They said it kept things holy. Why would he be helping her?

A glance behind her saw the soldiers nearing. They would catch her against the river. They would reach her even if she tried to run along it. But the water was too deep, too wild, too broad. Even the rock that protruded above the water was too slippery, too far. If she reached it, she knew she would fall, that her foot could not grip the wet surface. Her eyes shot forward and saw Nailan on the opposite bank, a soft smile curving his lips, his eyes seeming to shine.

Trust.

Aira inhaled deeply as she reached the near bank. Okay. She closed her eyes and jumped. Her body felt cushioned by something and she was held in the air longer than she would have been in a natural jump, and suddenly her feet landed on the rock. Keeping her eyes closed, she trusted that Nailan would help her keep her footing and pushed off once more. She landed on the sandy bank and rolled, jumping up to her feet as fast as she could and looked around. Nailan was clothed in a soft tan robe, the shepherd’s crook at his feet, and he smiled at her. He had saved her. He had helped her escape. She shook her head, trying to rid her eyes of the tears that threatened to fall. He had saved her.

“Go, my child. You are not away yet. They will try to cross, but you have a chance now. Go and know that I am with you. Go.”

She nodded and began trotting away from the river, away from the shouting soldiers. She had a chance. Nailan had provided a chance, and she would take it.

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